In the prewriting stage of a researched essay, you will do a lot of reading and information gathering. In this stage of the process, you should keep your information organized carefully so that you can find it when it comes time to write your essay.

Understand the assignment

In your essay, you will describe either the causes or effects of a topic. The topic may be a problem (e.g., poverty), or it may be a good thing (e.g., economic stability). You are not trying to solve a problem in your essay. In shorter essays, you may be asked to only consider causes or only consider effects. In longer essays, it may be more appropriate to consider both. Always be sure to understand what your teacher expects for the scope of your essay. 


You can do two types of research: preliminary research and detailed research. Preliminary research is when you first search for general information about a topic. You are getting familiar with a topic and discovering interesting things about that topic that you might  want to use in your essay. This is done when you are first thinking of ideas for your essay.  

Remember that after you do enough preliminary research to brainstorm and choose your focus, you should do more detailed research about your topic so that you can make your outline. This is were you will find specific sources with evidence to support your main ideas such as facts, statistics, and statements that you can quote or paraphrase. You will do both preliminary research and, later, detailed research to write your essay. 


Simple Google searches with either “causes of” or “effects of” might be a good place to start if you aren’t sure what to write about. You may also participate in a discussion with a friend or classmate to try to generate possible topics. Consider discussing trying to answer some of questions like the following: 

Generating Topics

  • What is a natural phenomenon that impacts nature or humans? (e.g., tsunamis) 
  • What is a phenomenon that impacts people socially? (e.g., bullying) 
  • What is a phenomenon that impacts relationships? (e.g., miscommunication) 
  • What is a phenomenon in business that makes companies successful? (e.g., marketing) 

You could also start by thinking about positive benefits that people look for or problems we face. 

Choose a focus

Then examine the causes/effects of that topic. Many students get confused writing this type of essay because they choose a topic and develop body paragraphs about the causes as well as the causes of the causes. Put your topic in the center and build around it.

2 Examples:

Cause of a Cause Chaos

Image: Barraza 2022

If this brainstorm was turned into an essay with each cause and cause of a cause and the cause of a cause of a cause getting a paragraph, the essay on the left would have eleven body paragraphs. The essay on the right would have four. Also, the essay on the left would have to explain how good time management caused follow-through, but that good time management was caused by self-discipline which causes hard work where follow-through caused trust. It is possible to do this, but it is complex and could get confusing. You could easily end up writing a book on how to have business success. When writing a cause-effect essay for a school assignment, consider what you will reasonably be able to write in the time and length constraints of the assignment. For a school essay and most short-form writing, you want to limit your ideas to a few. Focus in on just one thing and develop it well. 

For this example, the better essay would be the one on the right with four well-developed paragraphs with a clear relationship to the topic. Each could be a well-developed body paragraph. Or, if the writer wanted to, they could focus in even more and only write about how trust leads to business success. The body paragraphs for that could be about how trust between different businesses that work together, between customers and businesses, and between employees and employers leads to business success.

2 Possible Options:

Focus Option 1

Focus Option 2

Images: Barraza 2022

As a writer, you can choose to make the focus of your essay as broad or narrow as you want, but keep in mind that you will need to thoroughly develop the ideas you choose to include. To write an essay, consider how narrow your essay needs to be to develop it throughly. 


You can also begin an outline for your essay while doing the preliminary research and choosing a focus. An outline is a working document that may be changed as your organize your ideas. As you research about your topic, start organizing your findings. 

Some people begin with an outline by listing topics and quotes. Others write topic sentences and supporting sentences. Some start with their thesis statement and topic sentences and use questions and quotes to develop their ideas. Each person may have a unique way of organizing their ideas and research findings. 

However you outline, your outline should include your main idea and supporting ideas ordered in the way you could present them in an essay. 


Your introduction should describe in general terms the topic you will write about in your essay. At the end of your introduction paragraph, you should write your thesis. The thesis should clearly state a cause or effect relationship.


Here are some phrases that are useful for writing a cause/effect thesis: 


Your body paragraphs should explain how or why your thesis sentence is true. As you plan each of your body paragraphs, remember that using sources will make your writing more credible and interesting. Use sources properly so that you do not plagiarize.

Make sure your topic sentences connect to your thesis. Look at the example below for how the topic sentences should connect to your thesis. 


TH: Although the rise of fast fashion has improved clothing affordability for the public, it has also caused ethical and environmental issues. 
TS 1:First of all, the fast and cheap production that characterizes fast fashion has had some positive effect on the world by making clothing more affordable for consumers. 
TS 2:Although cheap to buy, the true price of fast fashion can be seen in the poor working conditions of fashion industry laborers around the world. 
TS 3:Furthermore, fast fashion has had a negative impact on the environment both in its production and its disposal. 

All of the topic sentences are about fast fashion. All of the topic sentences focus on one of the effects of fast fashion: affordability, poor working conditions, and environmental impact. The topic sentences also include cohesive devices such as adverbs and conjunctions to show the effects' relationship to the topic of fast fashion. 


Your conclusion paragraph should start by restating your thesis. Then you should speak about the main idea in more general terms and apply the topic from your body paragraphs to a more global context. End with a concluding statement that your reader will remember your essay by. 

As you outline your body paragraphs and choose research, make sure the quotes you use support your topic sentence.

Example: Outline with sources for a body paragraph

  • TH: Stress affects our body’s muscular, cardiovascular, and chemical systems. 
    • TS: One of the most obvious effects of stress is muscle tension. 
      • “When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain” (APA, n.d., “Musculoskeletal,” para. 1). 


Exercise 1: Complete an outline

Use the topic sentences to create the thesis for this outline. 

  • TH: 
  • TS: Good interior design comes from knowing principles of unity and contrast. 
  • TS: Respecting personal taste is another way to achieve a good design. 
  • TS: A good design can help people feel more relaxed. 
  • TS: A good design can also facilitate the functionality of a room. 

Exercise 2: Revise thesis statements

Revise the theses to be more effective for a cause/effect essay. 

  1. Here are the three negative effects of overfishing. 
  2. It’s required a global awareness to stop this uncontrollable problem which affects not only us, but also, those who come. 
  3. It affects the person in different ways and can affect every part of the body because the cancer can expand all over affecting all your organs. 
  4. Therefore, the mental and physical effects, using a smartphone before bed worsens sleep quality, some of the most common effect include not concentrate and poor memory on study or work, obesity risk and increased risk of having an accident. 
  5. All forms of addiction are dangerous and difficult to get rid of but the most common problem in a society is the problem with alcohol abuse. 
  6. The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia nervosa and the most important factors that cause it are a psychological, environmental, and biologic-genetical issues. 
  7. The impact of social media in our lives can be in positive and negative ways.

Exercise 3: Complete an outline

Use the topic sentences to create the thesis for this outline. 


  • TS: Depression can be caused by genetics. 
  • TS: Another cause of depression is chemicals in the brain. 
  • TS: A final cause of depression is due to circumstance. 

Exercise 4: Give feedback about an outline

Read the basic outline below. What would you do to help a classmate or friend that wrote an outline like this? 

  • TH: The causes more relevant about Pollution around the world are air, water, and 
  • ground pollution. 
  • TS: Air pollution is one the causes of pollution, and it can cause many diseases. 
  • TS: Water pollution is the second cause of pollution, and it can cause harm to 
  • marine animals. 
  • TS: Finally, ground pollution is the third cause of pollution, and it is the most common for the people. 
  • TS: Air, water, and ground pollution are the causes more common in the world 
  • about pollution. 

Exercise 5: Choose sources that support a topic sentence

Choose source material from the quotes below that would support the following topic sentence. (Don’t choose an entire quote if the whole quote doesn’t support the TS.) 

TS: Volcanic eruptions can occur due to an incerase in the amount of magma in the chamber. 

  • “A volcano is essentially an opening or a vent through which this magma and the dissolved gases it contains are discharged” (Killinc, 1999, para. 2). 
  • “If the density of the magma between the zone of its generation and the surface is less than that of the surrounding and overlying rocks, the magma reaches the surface and erupts” (Killinc, 1999, para. 3). 
  • “As...magma moves toward the surface, the solubility of the water in the magma decreases, and so the excess water separates from the magma in the form of bubbles. As the magma moves closer to the surface, more and more water exsolves from the magma, thereby increasing the gas/magma ratio in the conduit. When the volume of bubbles reaches about 75 percent, the magma disintegrates to pyroclasts (partially molten and solid fragments) and erupts explosively” (Killinc, 1999, para. 5). 
  • “These processes are obviously difficult to observe. The third process that causes volcanic eruptions is an injection of new magma into a chamber that is already filled with magma of similar or different composition. This injection forces some of the magma in the chamber to move up in the conduit and erupt at the surface (Killinc, 1999, para. 6). 
  • “Although volcanologists are well aware of these three processes, they cannot yet predict a volcanic eruption. But they have made significant advances in forecasting volcanic eruptions. Forecasting involves probable character and time of an eruption in a monitored volcano” (Killinc, 1999, para. 7).

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